Thursday, 6 October 2011

One Limit to Financial DIY - Mental Incapacity

There are limits to everything, including being a DIY investor. One such limit is when mental incapacity strikes. It gets to be a bigger and bigger issue as one gets older. The rising prevalence of dementia and increasing life expectancy ensure that it will become ever more common for retirees to become incapable of managing their own financial affairs.

The problem is that when such incapacity strikes, chances are we won't even be aware of it. Worse, even if we are aware, at the point when we have been medically certified as mentally incapable, we lose the legal power to do all sorts of critical things, as the report Financial Decision-making: Who Will Manage Your Money When You Can't? from the BMO Retirement Institute points out, including:

"• prepare a power of attorney
• make a new will, add a codicil to an existing will or revoke an existing will
• put a bank account into joint names with children
• change the beneficiary of your RRSP/RRIF or an insurance policy that you own
• carry out estate planning, such as reducing probate costs
• give investment instructions to your financial advisor."
As the report recommends, a sensible solution is to put in place, long in advance of anything happening, a Continuing Power of Attorney (CPOA), that kicks in automatically if and when incapacity happens. The report also mentions some obvious qualities the person(s) selected to exercise the CPOA power should have:
  • the time and willingness to fulfill the responsibilities (BMO says the average time a person fulfills a CPOA role is four years - if you are well advanced in age, it probably isn't the best idea to name someone the same age as you, like your spouse)
  • someone in whom you have complete trust (the CPOA has wide ranging power and possible abuse of the power is a major consideration; sadly, even one's own children can sometimes be less than reliable)
  • financially-knowledgeable enough to handle your affairs, or astute enough to recognize the need for professional help (tax, accounting, legal etc)

An interesting issue is what BMO calls "family dynamics", aka family politics, where other children are jealous because only one child is named as the CPOA attorney. In a sense, being picked as a CPOA person is a badge of honour but there is also work involved and like it or not, children do not always have the same capabilities and talents, not to mention availability. Being a Parent is a lifetime job (!) and making sure peace and fairness are maintained while doing what needs to be done may be a key part of setting up a CPOA successfully.

The BMO website hosts five other short worthwhile videos by lawyer Elena Hoffstein and Dr. Michael Baker talking about topics such as: how to recognize mental incapacity; its effects on ability to marry (you can still do it! I can imagine the smart alec comments that one must already be mentally incapable to get married at all... ) or to make a will and the unintended consequences of the two facts together (you may end up with no will at all); pitfalls of joint ownership (of house, investments, bank accounts etc) as a method to address incapacity.

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